Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

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Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A harrowing look at a very topical issue, with graphic descriptions of torture and mental suffering. It maintains a positive approach through a just ending, but without ever ducking the issues. Highly recommended, especially as a springboard for discussion.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 0141326077

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Khalid is a normal Rochdale boy. He's fifteen, and likes football, hanging out with his mates, drinking the odd illicit can of lager (but not getting drunk) and girls - well, one particular girl; green-eyed, Irish-brogued Niamh. Khalid's doing well at school, but he does get the occasional letter home about poor behaviour. He has two annoying little sisters, a mother who makes the most delicious curry, and a father who is loving, if a little distant and prim and proper. He loves computer games and chatting on the internet to his cousin Tariq in Pakistan. Tariq is writing his own computer game - Bomber One - and the two chat to other gamers all over the world.

I have a son like that. He's nice. Khalid is nice. Similar boys populate every town and city in the UK.

But not many go on holiday to visit family in Pakistan, are kidnapped by American agents, and taken to face torture and solitary confinement in Guantanamo Bay. And that's exactly what happens to Khalid.

I love it when children's fiction tackles the biggest issues of the day, and to my mind it doesn't get much bigger than Guantanamo Bay and the other "black" prisons around the world, so I was very excited to read Guantanamo Boy. I wasn't disappointed. Anna Perera blasts straight through all the taboos and here her readers will come understand exactly what is meant by the euphemistic terms they hear bandied around. Aggressive interrogation techniques, waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation, ritual humiliation - they don't sound nice, do they? But they don't sound anywhere near as horrendous as they are. Khalid certainly has no idea what they are until he experiences them.

It's a horrific book and a disturbing book, but it's a truthful book. Khalid, like many - but not all - detainees, is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, but once he's taken, nobody is really interested in the truth. Almost as shocking as the torture sequences are the scenes where Khalid's grip on reality and sanity wanes and he hallucinates. Gut-wrenchingly awful too, are the moments when prisoners are forced to stand naked, losing the dignity and privacy vital to everyone, but especially to devout followers of Islam.

It's also to Perera's credit that the book - written in the present tense to maintain immediacy, which is a challenge for young readers - maintains pace and tension throughout; it never gets lost in a miasma of horror. Without wishing to give too much away, I'll say that she also maintains hope and a positive vision for the future, since I think, despite its very graphic nature, this is a book late tweens and early teens could also read. It's not just for GCSE students.

Kudos to Perera for writing it and Puffin for publishing it. Despite President Obama's recent order to close Guantanamo Bay itself, there are still countless secret prisons with and without American involvement all around the world, and they are a scar on humanity. I hope Guantanamo Boy forms a springboard for discussion in classrooms up and down the country.

My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.

Benjamin Zephaniah writes political novels with an equal ease of communication. Younger readers might want to look at Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird. The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson blends the politics of Pakistan with a supernatural adventure.

If they want to find out more about the work being done to combat the abuses of human rights in prisons across the world, they should visit Reprieve.

Booklists.jpg Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera is in the Top Ten Books To Drag The Kids Away From Computer Games For Ten Minutes At Least.

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